London on a budget

Jun 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Readers Contributions

London is often criticised for being too expensive for a family to visit, but I can tell you that it isn’t always true. Now I`m not going to start comparing London to other cities, thats not the point. The point is that most visitors don`t do their homework before coming to London, and the result is that they often have an average day out, but pay dearly for it. Hidden London has so much to offer the visitor, that won`t cost an arm and a leg. I love London, it is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and I am an Irishman who loves Dublin!

London has so many fascinating places to visit that I hardly know where to start, so lets just go with the `flow-mo` and see where it takes us. The main attractions like Madame Tousaads and the London Dungeons are a great place to spend a few hours, but when the sun is out and the pocket is drying up, we should be looking at some alternative things to do. Did you know that London has some fabulous canals, they have day trip boats on them with guides, and they will fascinate you as you drift through the London countryside. Amazed! and so you will be to discover that there is still a lot of countryside in the capital. If you have kids to entertain then stop yourself going bankrupt, whilst still having an exciting day out. The Pirates of the Carribean have nothing on the exciting Pirates of Wapping. Just a stones catupolt from the Tower of London is old riverside village of Wapping, where the pirates of old would spend their ill gotten pieces of eight, and often their last hours, `aha me hearties`. Walking around the streets of Wapping and discovering the lost history of this age old crime, is a fabulous way to keep the kids entertained while teaching them something interesting. The bonus here is that you won`t have to walk the `credit card plank` to pay for it.

Ask most Londoners if there is anything in the English capital that’s free, and they will often reply, “You`re `aving a laugh mate”. That’s not such a silly answer as it may appear to be, for in London there is an array of free and cheap entertainment, you just have to know where to find it. If you`re in town on a Sunday, then you`ll find it hard to find a theatre open, but don`t despair. The best comedy show in London, no scrap that, the best comedy show in Europe is in London and its free, yes that’s right cock, it won`t cost you a sui. Take a bus or the tube to Marble Arch, and be prepared to listen to the greatest comedians in the world, this is the natural home of `Britain`s Got Talons`. It is called Speakers Corner and it has been a great British institution since 1851. I say institution and it certainly is that, with most of the speakers being let out of the institutions for the week end! The corner is an area of Hyde Park designated to free speech, the speakers are amusing in themselves as they spout out their beliefs, and have a go at just about everything. This is backed up with the heckling from the crowd, and many of the hecklers are regulars who come specifically to entertain the crowds. It is on every Sunday and usually bank holidays as well. We also have another free comedy in town every Wednesday at 3 p.m. it is called `Prime Ministers question time` and it held at the Palace of Westminster, or to you the Houses of Parliament. For 30 minutes the P.M. has to answer any questions put to them by any M.P. and since the house went live on T.V. the parliamentary show has become a soap box for any budding M.P. who is looking to get into the entertainment business. Our new Mayor Boris Johnson should watch out or he will lose his seat on `Have I got news for you`. You simply go to Westminster tube station and walk round the Parliament building to St. Stephens entrance, where you will have to go through some security checks before being taken up to Strangers Gallery to view the `cast` of the days show.

© Sean Boru 2008

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  1. I couldn’t agree more that conquering London on a budget requires planning, and a fair amount of restraint: but, operate the ‘don’t go to the supermarket hungry without a list’ approach to the city and London will handle beautifully. In fact, squeezing free (or, at the very least, low cost) fun out of the 609 square miles that make up Greater London feels like a tremendous coup, leaving you with a smug smile, an alternative but authentic experience, and money left to spend on, well, whatever else it is you like to do with your cash.

    609 square miles is rather a lot to cover in a day, but if I had one to spend in central London, and limited funds, I’d head first to Monument. For two pounds you can climb the 311 spiral steps and get as clear a view as from the London Eye, with none of the queueing. It was built to mark the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, at 202 feet, is the tallest freestanding stone column in the world – it’s height marking the distance to the bakery on Pudding Lane that was believed to be the source of the fire. You even get a certificate on completion – better than a ‘I went to London and all I got was…’ tshirt.

    It’s being refurbished at the moment, reopening in early 2009, so, till then, head to Primrose Hill or Parliament Fields instead. Spread out your picnic blanket or find a park bench (the inscriptions tend to be worth reading) and spot the landmarks. London isn’t praised for it’s panorama, but having it, quite literally, at your feet and seeing the beautiful Wren built St Paul’s jostling next to the affectionately named Guerkin (home to Swiss Re Insurance company) and the somehow majestic cranes of the construction industry sums up the opportunity, history and progress of the place.

    On a Sunday Columbia Flower market is a burst of colour and noise in a distinctly urban corner of London, pick up a bagel on Brick Lane and munch it as you head back towards Bloomsbury for a wander round an area that still seems to house a raffish set of artists and writers. If you have children you can catch your breath in the children only (accompanying adults allowed) Coram Fields, or on a gentle wander down Lamb’s Conduit Street – a beautiful Georgian street with old pubs and specialist shops. Window shopping only though. If you’ve got the energy, either the nearby British Library or the Wellcome Collection have free and fascinating exhibitions (Maps of London at the former and Skeletons of London’s long dead at the latter have both been exquisite).

    If you’re keen to eat out in the evening the Stockpot on Old Compton Street has a menu and prices that are rather like stepping back into the sixties (well, sort of), but don’t be fooled – the food is top quality. If you’re after something more glamourous you might be surprised to know that many of the michelin-starred restaurants have meal deals – as long as you’re willing to eat at 5pm. Check out toptable.com for all sorts of deals.

    And that’s just a start – so get out there, be inventive, look up, down and into London’s corners and enjoy not spending a penny.

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